[Note: A more detailed version of this post appeared at my personal blog.]
The Cairo protests that ultimately led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak received a great deal of attention on Twitter—the most used hashtag in 2011 was #egypt—leading much discussion over whether we were seeing “a Twitter revolution.” But the mere fact that protests occurred at the same time as an increase in calls for regime change on social media does not establish that the latter in any way fueled the former. The same factors that lead people to take to the streets might drive behavior online. Absent a credible identification mechanism, there’s no way to settle this matter empirically. But one question we might reasonably ask is whether we can at least identify a clear mechanism by which they might do so.
At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Um, yeah. Obviously.” Because you’re probably thinking that social media can help people learn that they’re not alone. That Twitter can help break the fear wall. But there are problems with that argument, as Andrew Little discusses in a fascinating new paper, “Communication Technology and Protest.”